Welcome to TV Party, VICE's weekly TV column, brought to you by resident sad-act, me, Lauren O’Neill, where I basically just talk for a bit about the best (or worst) thing on telly this week. Best enjoyed with a plate of your favourite breaded item and an open mind. Contains spoilers, obvs. This week: 'Big Mouth'.
Cartoons, obviously, are brilliant: good when you feel happy, good when you feel sad, fantastic when you feel desperately hungover and are in the process of obliterating a pizza in bed and can only respond to extreme, brightly coloured stimuli. He who is bored of cartoons is bored of life, I think the old saying goes.
Animation is an important part of TV and what it can achieve because it offers something so different to live-action shows. The humour is frequently more surreal and wide-reaching, the characters don’t have to be human, and crucially, they can help writers deal inventively with issues that are harder to navigate in the world of live-action.
One of those issues is puberty. There have been many programmes about coming of age and the often shitty realities of life as a teen (Freaks and Geeks, My So-Called Life, Skins, Skam), but very few that are actually about the nitty-gritty of puberty, for the simple reason that it’s hard to dramatise messy stuff about bodies and feelings without the end product seeming like something you’d watch in Year 9 while your science teacher went red in the corner.
Clearly there’s a gap for a show which explores puberty in all its near-universality and grossness that animation – with its ability to present likenesses of Michael Stipe as a tampon singing “Everybody Bleeds” – can plug uniquely. That’s where Netflix cartoon Big Mouth, which dumped its entire second season onto the streaming service last Friday – and which counts Jon Hamm as a talking scallop as one of its many guest-stars – comes in.
*Seinfeld voice* What’s the deal with Big Mouth?
With episode titles like “Am I Normal?” and “What Is It About Boobs?” it’s probably clear from the get-go that Big Mouth is a show about growing up and, inevitably, getting horny. Via the experiences of a central group of five tweens – Nick, Andrew, Jessi, Missy, and Jay – the show explores pretty much all the shit that happens to you in your early teen years, from regular coming of age fodder (dating, divorcing parents) to specific bodily changes (periods, boners, &c.). All of it is delivered wrapped in a big bow of batshittery, like how the ghost of Duke Ellington just… occupies the attic of Nick’s house and offers him life advice??
The show’s best running joke, however, is the personification of puberty’s id in characters called Hormone Monsters, which have the hooves of a goat and, in the case of the female one (named ‘Connie,’ which might just be the most *chef’s kiss* character naming on all of TV), the hair and breasts of an 80’s hair metal video girl. The Hormone Monsters are kind of like the devils on the pubescent kids' shoulders, instructing them to give into all of their newfound desires (steal a lipgloss, jerk off to your friend’s sister’s swimming costume, “get Chick-Fil-A….and not tell anybody!!!”). Along with all the talking body parts in Big Mouth, which perfectly demonstrate the way that previously dormant bits of you feel like they’re coming to life and ruining yours during puberty, the Hormone Monsters make for a disturbingly accurate portrayal of puberty’s mess of urges and emotions.
Who’s even in it?
The cast of Big Mouth has been its big sell since its first series premiered at the end of September last year. It stars a number of people who are pretty much household names in the US (mainly because they used to be on Saturday Night Live), and who are revered by ‘‘‘comedy fans’’’ (read: dreadful pricks, me included) the rest of the world over.
Nick Kroll, one of the show’s creators – perhaps best known in the UK for playing The Douche on Parks and Rec – does a lot of the heavy lifting, voicing Nick (based on his own pre-teen self), school sports coach Steve, Hormone Monsters Maury and Rick, and about 20 other characters. Elsewhere, John Mulaney – the star of Netflix’s two best stand-up specials – voices Andrew, Jordan Peele is the aforementioned ghost of Duke Ellington. Jenny Slate is Missy, and best of all, Maya Rudolph does wonders with Connie, fashioning a voice which simultaneously sounds like that of a comforting auntie and Cher. You’ll never say “bubble bath” the same again.
OK fine – but is it any good?
The voice-acting alone is so funny and silly that it prompts multiple laughs an episode (Rick the Hormone Monster saying “baby” at the end of every sentence is really doing it for me as I make my way through season two). The dialogue itself is fast, funny, and constantly self-reflexive – one of the new episodes sees a character talking about sharing Netflix passwords, followed hastily by a “REDACTED SCENE” card.
The visual gags are also great. Some draw attention to the famous cast behind characters (there's a talking vagina that looks like Kristen Wiig). Others, like Maury the Hormone Monster showing up late drinking a Starbucks, define the show’s mix of observational comedy and surreality.
From Emmerdale to shagging, how mum-friendly is it?
I don’t know your mum but I’d wager that you probably don’t want to sit down with her and dig into a show where the fucking of anthropomorphised pillows is an episode-by-episode theme.
Is it likely to cause a Twitter shitstorm?
The show's treatment of social issues has been well-received across its two seasons. Like Bojack Horseman, it’s not particularly interested in punching down, and though it sometimes uses its characters as mouthpieces for socially conscious monologues, it doesn’t feel preachy because it’s so funny.
Any last words?
Big Mouth is great because it offers relatability and escapism in the same spoonful. You’ll get it because puberty is the source of many common experiences, but you’ll love it because of shit like the anthropomorphic pubic hairs. Cartoons rule, but Big Mouth rules hardest right now.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.